FUKUOKA--Inspired by the Brave Blossoms’ performance at the Rugby World Cup, Tsuneo Yamada plans to play the sport for at least five more years until he passes his 90th birthday.

Rugby has long been in the blood of the 85-year-old former bank employee who started playing the game barefoot in the aftermath of World War II.

Yamada is now a stand-off for the Meiwaku Rugby Football Club. He practices once a week, plays at least one match a month and never shies away from tackling opponents.

With a “golden” dream in mind, Yamada is now resolved to continue playing rugby for the rest of his life after watching Japan’s historic advance to the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup.

Born in Tokyo, Yamada was raised near the Hachimanyama athletics ground of Meiji University, a perennial powerhouse in rugby, in the capital’s Setagaya Ward.

Longing to be a member of the university’s rugby team, Yamada established a rugby club at his junior high school in 1948.

Japan at that time was still struggling financially to recover from its defeat in World War II. Yamada could not buy shoes or other equipment, so practiced barefoot on a field.

Yamada continued playing rugby after entering the Tokyo metropolitan government-run Chitose High School. He then enrolled in Meiji University and asked Chuji Kitajima, the long-time rugby coach, to allow him to join the team.

Yamada played mainly as a fullback and was good at kicking.

After graduating from university, he worked at a bank and founded a rugby club there.

When he was in his 30s, he moved to Fukuoka Prefecture to work with a relative and joined a team of players with full-time jobs.

In 1973, he joined the Meiwaku Rugby Football Club, a team consisting of players 40 years old and over.

“I love rugby, so I decided I would keep working as long as I could,” Yamada said. “Now, I am surprised that I could come all the way here.”


Many rugby teams across Japan consist of players aged 40 or older, such as the Fuwaku Club in Tokyo and the Wak Wak Rugby Football Club in Osaka. They are called “waku” rugby teams because the kanji “waku,” used in “fuwaku,” another way to say “40 years old” in Japanese, is included in their names.

According to the Kyushu Rugby Football Union, 2,600 athletes play on 49 senior rugby teams throughout the nation. Although some of the players are older than Yamada, few of them suit up for real matches.

Players are banned from tackling those in older age groups, although it is acceptable to softly pull them down.

The color of the uniform pants is different for each 10-year age group in senior rugby. Players in their 80s wear purple ones.

Yamada played on Meiji University’s rugby team, which is likened to “a heavy tank.” Even now, he aggressively tries to tackle opponents.

“It is not rugby if there are no tackles,” said Yamada, who is proud of his cauliflower ears developed over the decades playing the sport.

Yamada said he was “stunned by the great achievement” by the Brave Blossoms, and that he will continue playing to put on the golden pants reserved for players 90 years old or higher.

“The path will open (when a player with golden pants gets the ball),” Yamada said with a smile. “I have to stay healthy to live long.”